New Ideas

Why My Athletes Don’t Use Lifting Gear

One thing I believe in above all else when training athletes is to ensure what we are doing in the weight room will benefit them on the field, court, etc. While I can’t teach a pitcher how to throw a sinker or improve a golfer’s stroke, my goal is to give them better tools to build with. Does a baseball player who deadlifts 400 pounds play better than one who only pulls 300 pounds? Not necessarily, and certainly not because of the discrepancy of a single lift. Strength and conditioning is an important aspect of developing athletes, but to pretend it is solely responsible for leaps in ability is fictitious and overvaluing my worth as a coach.

I believe it’s important to train the entire system of an athlete rather than focusing on just improving weight numbers. For example – if a baseball player is losing his deadlift because of a weak grip, it would make sense to have him use wrist straps to eliminate the grip issue and allow heavier lifts. If the goal is to train for a powerlifting competition, this is an excellent strategy. However, I don’t know of any baseball players that moonlight as powerlifters – the goal is to prepare them best for the baseball diamond. A weak grip is a sign of an inability to successfully transfer force through their arms. Baseball, along with most other sports, relies on the ability to generate massive amounts of force, minimize energy leaks, and direct this force in a controlled manner.

Take the baseball player example – when swinging a bat, all of the force he generates from his legs must travel through his entire body before reaching his hands and the bat he is swinging. Just like the expression, “You are only as strong as your weakest link,” the weakest part of the kinetic chain will limit how powerful the swing will be. As important as generating force is, being able to maintain tension to allow the force to reach its endpoint is equally important. While most muscles are trained for force generation and movement, there are several body parts which must be trained to resist movement and maintain their rigidity to allow force to pass through them, like a cord passes electricity from the outlet to your computer.

I’ve found the following three areas to be the most common energy leaks and improvement in the ability of these muscle groups to transfer force can lead to substantial improvements in performance.

Grip

As any baseball player will tell you, grip strength is paramount to success. While this may not be entirely true (as found by studies like this one), it still has an important purpose, but as a means to an end and not an end in itself. When it comes to grip strength, there is a point of diminishing returns and you only need to be “strong enough” to reap the benefits. It might be nice to have forearms like Popeye, but dedicating entire training sessions to grip work is a waste of precious gym time. Athletes should work on active gripping with exercises like weighted wrist rollers, wrist curls, and rice bucket drills, but also program in static grip strengthening exercises such as plate pinches, farmers walks, and dead weight holds.

Shoulders/Scapular Stabilizers

This is for injury protection as much as enhancing performance. A stable shoulder girdle can help keep the humerus in proper position and reduce the chances of an injury to the rotator cuff or labrum. Extra work with the scapular retractors, specifically the rhomboids, will help negate the effects of sitting in front of a computer for hours every day. Some of my favorite exercises include reverse planks, batwings (which can also be very effective when done with a TRX instead of dumbbells), waiter’s carries, and wall slides.

Torso/Spinal Stabilizers (Anti-Rotation/Flexion/Extension)

Methods for training the abdominal muscles have changed drastically with the contributions of John Pallof and Dr. Stuart McGill. More coaches are shying away from spinal flexion and the potential risks it poses to intervertebral discs and gravitating towards core training that prevents spinal movement. Ab rollouts (stability ball, wheel, barbell, etc.), Pallof presses, and many of the Cook Bar half-kneeling exercises are excellent choices when training core stability.

If you find your performance stagnating, try incorporate some of these ideas into your training. It’s quite possible you’re losing some of the force you are generating because of an energy leak in one or more of these areas.

If there is ever anything I can do to assist you or your program, please do not hesitate to contact me via email, Twitter, call, or text.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, FMS-1
480-241-4112
Drew@HenleySP.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley

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26 Training Lessons from 26 Years: Part 2

Last week, I listed my first 6 training lessons and here are another 6 to help you in your training, programming, and coaching.

7. Learn the Olympic Lifts

Most of my training programs are designed around the O-lifts and their accessory movements. They are some of the most beneficial exercises for improving strength, power, and performance in sports, however they must first be properly learned. In order to fully benefit from the exercises, you need to learn the technical aspects of the movements. For example, a hang clean isn’t just getting a bar from mid thigh to a front squat position, it’s doing so with the correct muscle firing pattern. Hip hinge (not squat), pulling yourself under the bar (not jumping), pushing your elbows through (not perpendicular to the floor), and catching in the racked position (instead of landing on the wrist) are all important details to performing a proper clean.

8. Do More Turkish Get Ups

Other than the above mentioned Olympic lifts, nothing hits the total system quite like a Turkish Get Up. Ground movement, unilateral training, mobility, shoulder stability, and overhead work are all included in a single movement. In terms of programming efficiency, very few exercises hit as many categories as the get up.

9. Be Brilliant at the Basics

This goes hand in hand with two of my previous notes – simplify and know your progressions. The best powerlifters in the world base their programs around three lifts – squat, deadlift, and bench press. Everything else is supplemental and if you look at programs like Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1, you realize the importance of mastering the basics. Compound movements, varying intensity depending on goals, and giving the program time to work are the keys to successful training. If you can’t perform a push up with perfect form, you shouldn’t be maxing out on bench.

10. Battle Ropes are a Beautiful Thing

There are several ways to condition the lower body – Tabata squats, stadiums, hill sprints, etc. – and fewer options for the upper body that provide a similar effect. My personal favorite  is the battle rope. If you want to blast your shoulders like you’ve never experienced, 20 second reps of slams, alternating slams, circles, and jumping jacks can work the shoulder stabilizers and total body better than most alternatives.

11. Seek Balance

I don’t mean do all of your exercises on a BOSU ball or Airex pad. Balance means maintaining the relationships in your training program. The first comparison that comes to mind is upper body pulling to pressing. For athletes who spend most of their time focusing on their anterior musculature (mirror muscle/beach body workouts, sitting at a desk, poor posture, etc.) and it’s important to balance out everyday life by increasing posterior work in training. Likewise, balancing squats and hip hinge movements is important in developing lower body power and decreasing knee imbalances.

12. Don’t be Afraid to Try Something New

I recently started playing around with primal move workouts and realized something interesting…they make for an incredible warm up. I like how they can flow from one movement to another, building upon itself similar to a yoga/pilates flow. I was skeptical at first, but after playing around with the movements, I discovered a flow I like using as a warm up or mobility circuit. There are thousands of great ideas out there and without experimenting a little from time to time, you’re limiting the tools at your disposal.

I hope these help you in your training. Next week I will put up part three of the series.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES
480-241-4112
Drew@HenleySP.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley
Facebook.com/HenleySP

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Simple Training Philosophies

“We’re not reinventing the wheel here.”

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard coaches (including myself) say that exact phrase to athletes, sport coaches, parents, etc. It’s true – nearly every break through in the field of sports performance happens when complex ideas are brought back down to Earth in a simplified context. Sure, we get new tools to use these ideas – such as TRX or Tendo units – but the ideas behind them are still simple. We want to be able to move and control our bodyweight (with devices like the TRX) and be able to train speed with a quantifiable result (I haven’t found anything comparable to a Tendo unit for this, but it is an incredible tool). Simple ideas, only with better technology to train with. Keeping that in mind, here are some simple training philosophies that help me get back to basics when I get too wrapped up in trying to, well, reinvent the wheel.

If It’s Important, Do It Every Day – Dan Gable (via Dan John) has provided me one of the best philosophies for my programs. While I don’t get to work with my athletes every day, I make sure to hit on the key aspects every training session. Lift heavy, train unilaterally, use the entire body at once, train basic movement patterns, lift/move your own body, stabilize what needs stability and mobilize what needs mobility.

If You’re Not Deadlifting, You’re Not Lifting – This is my favorite line from everything I’ve read from Pavel. Maybe it’s because deadlift was always my best lift (I am a little biased), but I’ve noticed a correlation between strong deadlifters and athletic ability. Maybe it’s the fact they have well-developed posterior chain musculature – recognized as an important piece of athletic performance and force production – or maybe it’s that athletes who deadlift usually take their training more seriously than their “bench and biceps” counterparts.

Have A Reason For Everything You Do – Since day 1, if I try something new in a program, I make sure I have a reason for including it (other than it looked neat on YouTube). If, once it has been introduced, doesn’t yield results, no matter how badly I want to include it in training, it is gone. This was a frequent point of discussion with Mike Boyle when I had the fortune of working with him last year. After his decades of experience, he still trains by the KISS mantra – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Train To Perform On The Field/Court/etc. – Unless the athlete is a competitive Olympic lifter or powerlifter, their competitive is outside the weight room. With this in mind, lifting the most weight isn’t always the best sign of productive training. If I have a 6’8″ basketball player, I am less interested in improving his bench numbers and more focused on his agility, mobility, speed, and explosiveness. Simply making athletes stronger isn’t a job well done – those gains must apply to their sport performance.

Think Big Picture – Small Steps Lead To Big Gains – I covered this before, but I love Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 and the concept of small, continuous gains over a long period of time. Most of the workouts athletes see in magazines or online advertise “Add 50 Pounds to Your Bench in 6 Weeks” or “Bigger Biceps in One Workout” – immediate results. Other than making it difficult to coach athletes who see (and believe) these ads, they also shift the focus to the short term benefits. If I want a new car, I could sell my computer, tv, furniture, rob a convenience store, and drive off the lot with a shiny new truck by the end of the week.  However…that short term benefit came at a cost – I don’t have a bed to sleep in, money to pay for the gas my new car needs, and I’m probably a day or two away from being caught for robbery. The costs associated immediate benefits from training are only slightly less damaging – overtraining/injury – and result in prolonged gaps in training. What good is a huge gain if you’re forced to quit training and fall back to square one? Plan for where you want to be a year from now, not a week or month, and keep the goals realistic.

These are simple concepts, but when new research and ideas are introduced into the field on a weekly basis, sometimes simple is the way to go.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

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Weekly Workout Checklist – Are Your Workouts Complete?

Are you sure you have a well-rounded program? Most people don’t, whether by avoiding legs, back, or bench (just kidding), and they never really think too much about it. Here is a simple checklist to make sure you’re training is varied enough to allow progress.

As you can guess, many exercises can count towards multiple categories. For example, Chin Ups would get marks in vertical pull, double arm pull, core anti-movement, and bodyweight movement (depending on your definition or execution, you could make a case for them to be a loaded hold as well). The point of the checklist isn’t to do an exercise dedicated to each category, but to make sure you’re hitting the body in a variety of ways.

Unless you are on a bodybuilding type split, dedicating workouts to a single muscle or movement, it’s unlikely you would need a full training week to fill each category, in fact, it’s pretty easy to meet all of the requirements in a single workout in only a few lifts. However, if you like upper-lower or chest/tris/shoulders-back/bis-legs/core splits, this can help give you some new goals to shoot for. Make sure you’re working in some single limb exercises for added stabilization. Yes, you will make it easier on the prime movers of an exercise (I’ve never met anyone who could dumbbell bench the same as their barbell bench, but some have been close), but that’s not the goal. By incorporating the stabilizer muscles more, you can improve your strength numbers and reduce the likelihood of an injury.

I include ankle and hip mobility/AIS stretching because I think they are the two joints most in need of increased mobility. These are great to do as intraset rest work/active recovery.

The only downside to a checklist like this is everything is weighted equally. That will be addressed with another post, because it is important to include rep variations, heavy and light days, more pulling than pressing, etc. This chart is just a starting point to make sure you are hitting the core areas properly.

Also, if you missed the last post, I have put together a free ebook of inspirational quotes, available here. Please give it a look and if you like it, share it with anyone else who may enjoy it. Let me know any comments or questions you have. As always, if I can ever help you or your program in any way, please feel free to contact me.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES
480-241-4112
Drew@HenleySP.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley
YouTube.com/DrewBHenley

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5 Ways to Improve Your Training Results

Sorry for the long hiatus. I have been working on a few other projects and focusing on my reading. I want to be certain that whatever content I put on the site is worth your time and not just…well, crap.

With that said, let’s take a look at a few ways to bust through a plateau or achieve those goals you haven’t quite reached yet.

  1. Do Everything you Don’t Want to do – For most lifters, this means legs. Specifically, squats and deadlifts. Yes, they are hard (if you’re doing them properly) and yes, I know your legs will be sore for a couple days, but there’s a reason they are so difficult – they work! What is more difficult, a circuit of leg curls, leg extensions, , hip adduction/abduction, glute bridges, calf raises, planks, and back extensions, or heavy squats? Better yet, what’s more effective? Don’t kid yourself into thinking because you trained your legs on machines that you did a leg workout. Use the barbell, load it up with plates, pick it up off the floor, and stand up with it on your shoulders. Likewise, most exercises we avoid are ones we should be doing because they are holding us back. Look back on your workouts, whatever area you avoid or do easy, crank up the intensity and bring it up to par. Your body wants to keep some symmetry, so if your stuck in place with one muscle group, growth in the others will be limited.
  2. Time is Your Most Precious Asset – Imagine you only have 20 minutes from when you enter the gym to when you leave, how are you going to spend it? Probably not with ten minutes with a treadmill “warm up” or mixing your workout drink…I hope. Treat your workouts with a sense of urgency, attack the weights with intensity and get your work done. Instead of pretending to warm up on a cardio machine, try a barbell complex or short total body circuit to get everything ready. Then, big weights and big lifts. Remember, intensity is more important than duration in training. Power, strength, and explosion happen fast, not gradually over hours. Think of it this way, who won the 100m dash in the Olympics? What about the 5000m? Exactly.
  3. Don’t Treat Ab Work as a Main Movement – I’m not going to say your abs get all the training they need from other lifts, but abs/core should be treated as auxiliary work. Use core work as active rest between sets of main lifts or as a circuit later in a workout, don’t dedicate five sets strictly to abs and resting from abs. That’s not how you get a six pack.
  4. If you Haven’t Done a Lift in the past Month, do it – This works off number 1, but also serves as a reminder to vary your workouts. You may have found a program that’s great and gives you results, but don’t get complacent – eventually your body will adapt. That doesn’t mean scrap the whole thing every week, just try different grips, stances, or weights/reps/rest schemes. Instead of incline bench, try it with dumbbells, single arm DB bench, or replace deadlifts with sumo or wide grip. Small changes, continuing progress.
  5. If You’re in a rut, try this – Classic 5×5 workout, with some additional tweaks. 5 main exercises, each for 5×5, with the first three sets acting as warm-up/acclimation sets, and the last two as your true working sets. For the rest period during the first three sets, there will be auxiliary work to be done as active rest. Set 1 will be 50% of your working weight (not your 5RM, but the weight you will use in set 4), set 2 is 70%, set 3 is 85%, with the final two as working sets.

So if you’re going to use 200 pounds for your working set in power cleans, set 1 is 100, set 2 – 140, set 3 – 170, set 4 – 200, set 5 – 200+. Simple enough? If it’s easier to round the weights, that’s not a problem (185 is a lot quicker to load onto a bar than 180). Here’s how the workout will look:

  • Hang Clean – 5×5 (Hip Flexor Stretch – 30 seconds after each of the first three sets)
  • Squat – 5×5 (Push Ups – x10-20)
  • Wide Grip Deadlift – 5×5 (DB Rows – x8)
  • Single Arm DB Military Press – 5×5 (Single Leg RDL – x8 with light weight)
  • Pull Ups – 5×5 (Planks – 30-60 seconds)

Other exercises can be substituted, but keep the general outline – Olympic/power movement, squat variation, deadlift variation, press, pull. No machines for main lifts (unless you’re unable to perform heavier than body weight pull ups for five).

Good luck, if you have any questions you can reach me on Twitter, Facebook, email, or on my cell.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES
480-241-4112
Drew@HenleySP.com
Twitter.com/DrewBHenley
YouTube.com/DrewBHenley

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